In this post from Writers Write, your one-stop writing resource, we share 15 bookish biographies to read before you die.
If you want to read more about writing memoirs, try these:
- 10 Memoir Mistakes Writers Should Avoid At All Costs
- 127 Writing Prompts To Finish Before You Write About Yourself
- 5 Reasons Why Writing A Memoir Is Like Writing A Short Film
- 6 Simple Ways To Help You Find Out What Your Memoir’s About
- 7 Really Good Reasons To Write A Memoir
- Why You Need To Write Your Memoir Like Fiction
- Writing A Memoir? Narrow Your Focus
If you’re looking for a list of literary memoirs to read, try these 15, which are all written by famous authors.
15 Bookish Biographies to Read Before You Die
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: From a small Arkansas town to the street cars of San Francisco, one of America’s most beloved poets ruminates on the life that led her to such a stellar writing career.
- Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and The Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by Cory MacLauchlin: The tragic, complex story behind A Confederacy of Dunces’ author and his posthumous publication is as incredible as the Pulitzer-winning novel itself.
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway’s time amongst the expatriates of Paris between World Wars is immortalised here, with stories of his friendships with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and famously F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein: Rather than penning a straight-up autobiography, celebrated modernist Gertrude Stein chose to reflect upon her life surrounded by the intellectual and creative elite through the lens of her secretary and lover Alice B. Toklas.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: Both an autobiography and a pretty handy-dandy guide to not writing terribly, the master of horror delivers a necessary read for English majors especially. Though, of course, anyone can benefit from his advice!
- Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi: Half autobiography, half literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran explores how reading groups kept a professor and her female students together as the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule suppressed their rights to an education.
- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, a landmark of LGBTQIA literature, pulled considerably from author Jeanette Winterson’s own personal traumas as the lesbian daughter of radically Pentecostal missionaries.
- Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov: This non-chronological memoir explores the controversial, but still beloved, writer’s life in Russia prior to his American immigration.
- Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser: Celebrated existentialist and modernist Clarice Lispector’s unusual life saw her transition from the struggling child of Ukranian immigrants to a quirky and beloved Brazilian literary superstar.
- What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami: Some of the greatest works of contemporary literature, like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Sputnik Sweetheart, and After Dark, burst into existence thanks to their author’s passion for marathon training.
- I, Asimov: A Memoir by Isaac Asimov: Even readers who dislike science-fiction still witness Isaac Asimov’s thumbprint in the popular culture surrounding them, so it pays to stay in the know about his life, works, and philosophies.
- Rent Girl by Michelle Tea: The Mission District in San Francisco serves as the piquant backdrop for the irreverent, hilarious, and honest writer Michelle Tea’s straightforward memoir of prostitution, drug abuse, and the girlfriend who led her down that path.
- Lucky: A Memoir by Alice Sebold: During her freshman year at Syracuse, this best-selling author suffered a horrific rape by a stranger, and she frankly discusses both the trauma and the resulting painful healing and criminal justice process here.
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers: David Eggers’ curious memoir mimics the natural state of memory, with plenty of bluntly admitted edits and embellishments meant to illustrate an overarching theme of veracity versus storytelling.
- The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain: Learn all about how one of the literary world’s most razor-sharp wits approached his own writing and perceived the world around him with almost eerily keen insight.
Source for bookish biographies: OEDB
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.